Louisville Cardinals at Kentucky: Game Preview

Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

Louisville comes into Commonwealth Stadium a two-touchdown favorite. Can Kentucky derail their season?

It's well after midnight and I'm still awake, contemplating the game tomorrow. I may be late getting to the pregame, but what good would a Louisville-Kentucky matchup be without one?

What's at stake

For Kentucky, the biggest stake in this game is a three-game losing streak to Louisville. Only two years ago, we had a four-game winning streak against the Toothy Birds, but the last two have seen the Cardinals ascend as the Wildcats have declined. This is more or less the story of this rivalry, as neither team has really enjoyed long stretches of success.

For Louisville, the stakes are higher. Through no real fault of their own, they find themselves in the weakest BCS conference in the nation, and facing a schedule that not even Boise St. could love. Concomitant with this, they bring in perhaps their best team, and almost certainly their best player in many years, and perhaps ever in modern history — quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Due to their weak schedule, the Cardinals have a very narrow window to get a shot at the BCS championship game, and that window includes a loss by one of the Great Powers in the SEC as well as an undefeated season by the Cardinals. But the Cardinals' situation is complicated further by the fact that they must not only win every game, but they must do so by convincing margins.

The season so far

Louisville brings into Commonwealth Stadium a team that has won two straight games, one against a MAC team, the Ohio Bobcats, and the second against FCS Eastern Kentucky University. Both games were won almost exclusively off the arm of Teddy Bridgewater, who so far has thrown for an average of 376 yards/game and 9 touchdowns. In fact, 10 of the 12 touchdowns Louisville has scored has come off the pass, with only 2 of them coming over the ground.

Defensively, the Cardinals are allowing opponents 104 yards passing and 94 yards per game rushing. The Cardinals have only allowed 2 touchdowns so far, one passing and one rushing.

Kentucky comes in 1-1 with a very poor performance in Nashville against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who handled the Wildcats easily. They won their second game against the Miami (OH) RedHawks, reckoned one of the weakest teams in FBS, but in doing so, racked up a prodigious offensive output to the tune of 675 total yards. Kentucky has been much more balanced offensively with 239 yards/game and 4 touchdowns coming over the ground, and 308 yards/game and 4 touchdowns through the air.

Defensively, Kentucky is allowing 157.5 yards per game on the ground, and 147 yards per game through the air. Kentucky has allowed 4 rushing touchdowns and 1 passing touchdown.

The matchup

Naturally, the matchup favors the Cardinals. It's interesting that the two teams are #17 and #18 in total offense. The Cardinals, however, have been much stingier on defense, ranking #13 in total defense to the Wildcats' #31.

Louisville bested a MAC team that was very good last year and went to a bowl. Kentucky, on the other hand, lost to a very similar Sun Belt team with a new coach. Louisville's other opponent was FCS, but Kentucky's second opponent was not much better. UK was much improved against Miami (OH), but honestly, we don't know how much of that was due to Miami's ineptitude and how much was due to Kentucky's execution.

The biggest mismatch appears to be when Louisville has the football. The Kentucky defense was a complete failure against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and it's hard to see how they can go from that to stopping one of the best quarterbacks in the college ranks, and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland appear to be Bridgewater's favorite targets with Eli Rogers and Kai De La Cruz not far behind.

When Kentucky has the football, Louisville's defense will definitely be tested in this game. Kentucky has proved that it can throw the football down the field, as well as on out routes and underneath. They have a deep stable of running backs that are faster and more skilled than any Louisville has faced this year. Raymond Sanders and Jojo Kemp are both averaging over 6.5 yards per carry. The two-headed quarterback of Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow have so far accounted for over 67% of the total Kentucky offense. Their favorite targets are Javess Blue, Anthony Kendrick, and true freshman Jeff Badet.

Questions for Kentucky

  • Can Kentucky stop the Cardinal offense? Forget about the pass or the run, can they stop them at all?

  • Can Kentucky stop beating themselves with penalties? The Wildcats are currently tied for second most yards assessed by penalties in all of FBS.

  • Can Kentucky avoid turnovers against a quality defensive unit like Louisville?

  • Can Kentucky prove that they can be competitive with a quality FBS football team in their home stadium?

Questions for Louisville

  • Can the Cardinals avoid being overconfident, or taking Kentucky lightly?

  • Can Louisville stop the new-look Air Raid offense of Kentucky?

  • Can Louisville finally have a game where special teams are not a major negative?

  • How much will Kentucky's home field advantage figure into the game?

  • Can the Cardinals perform well enough that this game is a positive for their BCS championship hopes, instead of a negative?

Conclusion

This game can go one of two ways — Louisville can come out and score on their first three or four possessions and just roll over the Wildcats, or they can stumble a time or two, open the door for Kentucky, and wind up in a barnburner. UK just isn't mature enough at key positions to play Louisville straight up and win without some help from the Cardinals in the form of turnovers, penalties, or execution errors.

However, the Cardinals could really tighten up if things go against them early, and that could lead to a competitive contest that could go either way. There are lots of reasons for the Cardinals to be cocky and/or tight coming into this game, much as Kentucky was for Western. If that happens, they could be in for a long day.

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